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When travel is for the birds

By Robert Tougias

Publication: The Day

Published May 03. 2013 4:00AM

During a recent flight from south Florida, I started thinking about the thousands of birds making their own journey north through the scattered gilded clouds. May is when most neo-tropical migrants arrive in our region and wintering species depart for the North Country. Each day will usher in thousands of song birds and offer a chance for a new discovery.

Many of the birds seen during my vacation were probably en route to the Northeast. For example, there were dozens of warblers atypically concentrated in woodlots. It was a preview of what will be arriving soon in New London County. Although, pine warblers have been here for a few weeks already, most warblers have not returned just yet.

You may begin to see a few yellow-rumped warblers next week and by the middle of the month there will be thousands making their way over the landscape. These yellow-rumped warblers soon will be followed by other warblers such as redstarts, blackburnian, black-throated green and Canada warblers. Look for these small intricately colored birds along woodland trails with low hanging branches, brushy areas and running water.

Shortly after the warblers return, rose-breasted grosbeaks move in and often turn up at feeders that stock black oil sunflower seeds. They prefer grape jelly, but if the sunflower seeds are given on a fly-through feeder they will make quick work of them, too. Their appearance is brief, however, and once involved in nesting they frequent feeders less often.

In late May catbirds return by the thousands. They will find their favorite shrubby areas from which we will hear their distinct song. Further from humans, in the deeper brambles and impenetrable thickets, the shy and increasingly rare brown thrasher also will settle in to nest.

Higher in the tree canopy a raucous but seldom seen fly catcher arrives from across the Gulf of Mexico to our woodlands. The magnificent great-crested fly catcher spends most of its time at the canopy but will nest in tree cavities only a few feet from the ground. In fact, they sometimes can be coaxed into a nesting box built to specification. Listen for their " dwip, dweeeeep" calls around the last week of May.

About a week later, pleasant songs similar to a robin's emanate from the lazy sway of the fully foliated trees as the days become more summer-like. Like the great-crested flycatcher, the red-eyed vireo's robin-like song often is the only proof of its return; it is more often heard than seen. Now, scarlet tanagers, blue-gray gnatcatchers and other secretive species begin to fill the woodlands.

Upon my arrival back home from the airport on April 28, I immediately noticed that the dark-eyed juncos were gone. Very soon, the white-throated sparrows will take wing for more northerly and wilder places, too. Even blue jays may migrate locally to the north and west.

These are just a few of the happenings taking place all around us in the month of May. There is an order to the arrival of specific species, but unlike the jets at the airport it is far from precise. It is enough to know that soon all of the migrants will have returned and the mornings will be rich with their deafening chorus.

Robert Tougias is a Colchester birding author. He is available for presentations and will answer your birding questions at rtougias@snet.net.

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